If we were to undertake a survey to try and discover what people have missed most since we began this journey we are on. I imagine the answers would include, seeing friends and family, having a hug, family celebrations like christenings and weddings and anniversaries and birthdays and so on.
And we miss these things so because fundamentally we are made not to live isolated lives (as I am at the moment having tested positive for the virus on Wednesday last week) distanced from one another but to be together. To be in communion.
In the story of creation as we have it in Genesis we read that ‘the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone;‘(1) We are meant to be together.
And whilst the Gospel for today often comes round at this time of year, it feels a bit as though its rubbing salt into our wounds at the moment. For we have not been together, we have not had a party to celebrate for ages, birthdays of note have passed, anniversaries celebrated differently.
And in the life of St. Mary’s we are not gathered around the family table to share in the party of Christ’s presence with us. We have not had Summer or Winter Fairs, Harvest Lunches, or family Christenings or weddings.
I’ve often thought it odd that this Gospel reading is read at this time when we are celebrating and pondering the incarnation. And yet as I’ve reflected more and dusted off the odd commentary the connections are there.
Consider for a moment what we think marriage (the context for the reading) to be – it is of course a celebration of love, of how two people having found love with each other want to bind themselves together, through the words and actions of the sacrament.
And here we make a connection with the incarnation. Of how in Jesus God through love bound himself to us. A kind of marriage. It’s not surprising then that the Book of Revelation from which we heard our first reading picks up that language. So, a marriage party is perhaps not such a strange reading after all for the first of the signs in John’s Gospel.
And then what of the text itself? We get a picture of Jesus at table with his friends, laughing and joking, enjoying the party. His mother recognises though that something is amiss. He responds rather cruelly ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and me.’
And then a miracle. Jesus has compassion. Water becomes wine, lots of fine wine and the party goes on. I’ll come back to the miracle in a bit.
Parties have been on hold lately and though we have found new ways to be together. From online quizzes to meeting up with friends online, they are not the same as meeting face to face.
And though vaccine continues to be pumped into arms across the parish and we hope and pray return to some sort of normality we shall I think carry the scar of this time. The anxieties and fears kindled are not going to suddenly disappear.
That’s certainly true for me, both personally but also as Vicar as I wonder what will life be like for us in the coming year? I wonder if folk will come back? I wonder whether we can recapture that Spirit filled worship that was and is so deeply attractive in our life together?
I hope so and these are some of the questions I carry with me – you’ll have your own. I share them not to be depressing but to say I am no exception and just like everyone else have my anxieties and fears.
What I try and do day by day is to place them before God in prayer. Before a God who in Jesus reveals how he is bound to us through love.
And when things get tough as they sometimes do I cling on to words that give me hope. And through this Christmas season that is drawing to a close we have had plenty of them. I want to remind you of some we heard at the beginning of St. John’s Gospel at Midnight Mass one month ago.
They come from that memorable prologue to the Gospel that begins ‘In the beginning was the Word.’(2) For just recently I discovered a different translation that I think speaks to our time, as it translates the Greek word ‘logos’, usually translated as ‘Word’ into ‘meaning’.
So, let me read you that prologue again with the alternative translation. It reads ‘In the beginning was the meaning, and the meaning was with God and the meaning was God.’
It’s been hard to make sense of all that has happened to us over the months. It has been hard for us to find the meaning when that which often gave our life meaning has been taken away.
And yet as people of faith, wearied by these long and cold winter days, we cling onto those words from St. John and remember that in Jesus we find the meaning. In Jesus we see to return to the Gospel for today a God bound to us in love.
So, what of that miracle, or sign as John calls it and the meaning of it – well there are lots but one direction it might point us is how the miracle of transformation happened so quietly.
The jars filled with water go from a to b, and along the way became it is transformed to wine. There was no flash of lightning just a gentle transformation.
I pray for that gentle transforming spirit to be at work among us, in this season where parties are suspended. When we gather in our homes.
It seems to me that the work of the spirit is often quiet and unseen, gently transforming our perspective on life, accompanying as we journey on.
So, I pray too that I, that we – may be open to the spirit that turned water into wine gently transforming our fears and anxieties into hope.
Hope that helps us look beyond this time of separation when we shall gather again with smiles and hugs and handshakes.
When we shall gather again in St. Mary’s with song and sacrament.
When we will have party.
When we shall eat and drink, no longer alone or isolated or distanced but together, as we are meant to be.
Rejoicing in our communion with each other once again.